Of macro mismanagement

When corrupt masters wish to benefit from their offices, they begin by subverting the systems of checks and balances

Of macro mismanagement


To pick up from my last week’s lamentation, I again begin with Rousseau; “all peoples must be governed”. For people to be governed, there must be a government. But, government(s) exist for only one purpose i.e. to ensure equal rights of all citizens, individually and collectively.

To this end, all political philosophers, whether democratic, socialist, or autocratic, have sought to create systems of checks and balances in every form of government they have espoused or advocated.

Most of them agree on the basic three pillars of every state; the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. The legislature, being representatives of the aspirations of the peoples, makes the laws for governance, the executive governs and ensures that the citizens abide by the laws; and the judiciary interprets the laws and adjudicates their execution. The separation of the functions of the three pillars of state and their independence from each other is essential to ensure the environment in which good governance is possible. While this is the basic distribution of responsibilities for effective governance, most constitutions create further checks and balances within each pillar of state. The basic idea being that accountability is an inbuilt and ongoing process.

In our early days, even the bureaucracy provided balance. Bureaucrats used to be highly educated and selected after a stringent and transparent process. They provided permanence in government offices, since they were there irrespective of who was elected. They also provided rationale since, over years of experience, they gained expertise in their respective fields.

When Pakistan came to birth, we had our share of some very gifted jurists who were judges and lawyers, and some highly competent bureaucrats from the Indian Civil Service. For some years this tradition continued and Pakistan had more than its share of both. When corrupt masters wish to benefit from their offices they begin by subverting the systems of checks and balances — macro mismanagement. In our case, this systemic corruption began early.

The first thing Ayub Khan did was to purge the bureaucracy. They may or may not have been corrupt but, this was the bureaucracy’s first taste of insecurity. This tradition was continued by all military dictators who followed. Civilian rulers discovered bureaucratic nepotism; which was to make the bureaucrats entirely dependent on the whims of their political masters.

The separation of the functions of the three pillars of state — the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary — and their independence from each other is essential to ensure the environment in which good governance is possible

Possibly the first occasion when our judiciary justified a military take-over in 1968 under “the doctrine of necessity” it may have been in good faith. However, this doctrine has haunted us since by justifying each military take-over.

Worse was the fact that the emergence of this doctrine brought stark notice, the benefits of a pliant judiciary, not only to future military dictators but also to elected aspirants in search of becoming elected dictators. Among his many other evil legacies, ZA Bhutto was the first elected leader to systematically suborn the judiciary. Ziaul Haq continued this process and all others, military and elected followed suit. Till the quality of jurisprudence and bureaucracy virtually disappeared from our dictionaries.

Among the institutional efforts to ensure checks and balances are constitutionally appointed ‘Regulators’. Among these regulators are the monetary regulators, energy regulators, media regulators, and ombudsmen. Ombudsmen seem to have got lost and, those regulators who attempt to regulate, have been swiftly replaced. The powers of the Energy regulator, NEPRA, have already been given to two ministries, rendering it toothless. I wish to draw your attention to two recent acts which should be the final nails in the coffin of our long and checkered history of systematic corruption.

On Saturday, July 8the Finance Minister replaced the officiating Governor of the State Bank. And, in a not very veiled comment, held the sacked governor responsible for the unexpected tumble of the rupee to dollar exchange rate.His fault was a failure to prop up the rupee.

For some years now, the State Bank has falsely propped the rupee whenever it fell due to decreasing ratio of our exports to imports. However, this year our balance of trade has fallen much further and so have the dollar remittances from abroad. Continuing to prop the rupee to the dollar will put future generations under the kind of debt that may be impossible to pay.

But who cares about the debt of future generations while under the Damocles’ Sword of Panama Gate and with an impending election looming in the near future?

The same day the chief of the National Transmission and Despatch Company, NTDC, another regulator, was also sacked. His fault? He opposed the commissioning of further power generation plants. While concluding the CPEC debate, I explained that power generation and communication projects have a longish gestation period.

The NTDC chief was of the view that further commissioning of power plants will, by the time, these are functional, will be surplus to our requirements since those currently underway will have been completed earlier.

I have repeatedly cautioned against our enthusiastic espousal of all CPEC related projects and activities without an assessment of their necessity and utility when they are completed and their benefits while under construction. The NTDC chief was doing the same. It is heartening to note that the military leadership has also voiced its concern over CPEC. It is to be hoped that their words of caution may have greater impact. Perhaps all the systemic regulatory powers should also be passed to GHQ. Will that result in better governance?

 

The writer is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)

 

 

Published in Daily Times, July 16th , 2017.